Mark 9 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Mark 9)

Mr 9:1-13. JESUS IS TRANSFIGURED--CONVERSATION ABOUT ELIAS. ( = Mt 16:28-17:13; Lu 9:27-36).

See on Lu 9:27-36.


Healing of the Demoniac Boy (Mr 9:14-29).

14. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them--This was "on the next day, when they were come down from the hill" (Lu 9:37). The Transfiguration appears to have taken place at night. In the morning, as He came down from the hill on which it took place--with Peter, and James, and John--on approaching the other nine, He found them surrounded by a great multitude, and the scribes disputing or discussing with them. No doubt these cavillers were twitting the apostles of Jesus with their inability to cure the demoniac boy of whom we are presently to hear, and insinuating doubts even of their Master's ability to do it; while they, zealous for their Master's honor, would no doubt refer to His past miracles in proof of the contrary.

15. And straightway all the people--the multitude.
when they beheld him, were greatly amazed--were astounded.
and running to him saluted him--The singularly strong expression of surprise, the sudden arrest of the discussion,and the rush of the multitude towards Him, can be accounted for by nothing less than something amazing in His appearance. There can hardly be any doubt that His countenance still retained traces of His transfiguration-glory. (See Ex 34:29, 30). So BENGEL, DE WETTE, MEYER, TRENCH, ALFORD. No wonder, if this was the case, that they not only ran to Him, but saluted Him. Our Lord, however, takes no notice of what had attracted them, and probably it gradually faded away as He drew near; but addressing Himself to the scribes, He demands the subject of their discussion, ready to meet them where they had pressed hard upon His half-instructed and as yet timid apostles.

16. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?--Ere they had time to reply, the father of the boy, whose case had occasioned the dispute, himself steps forward and answers the question; telling a piteous tale of deafness, and dumbness, and fits of epilepsy--ending with this, that the disciples, though entreated, could not perform the cure.

17. And one of the multitude answered, and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son--"mine only child" (Lu 9:38).
which hath a dumb spirit--a spirit whose operation had the effect of rendering his victim speechless, and deaf also (Mr 9:25). In Matthew's report of the speech (Mt 17:15), the father says "he is lunatic"; this being another and most distressing effect of the possession.

18. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him; and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away--rather, "becomes withered," "dried up," or "paralyzed"; as the same word is everywhere else rendered in the New Testament. Some additional particulars are given by Luke, and by our Evangelist below. "Lo," says he in Lu 9:39, "a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly [or with difficulty] departeth from him."
and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not--Our Lord replies to the father by a severe rebuke to the disciples. As if wounded at the exposure before such a multitude, of the weakness of His disciples' faith, which doubtless He felt as a reflection on Himself, He puts them to the blush before all, but in language fitted only to raise expectation of what He Himself would do.

19. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation--"and perverse," or "perverted" (Mt 17:17; Lu 9:41).
how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?--language implying that it was a shame to them to want the faith necessary to perform this cure, and that it needed some patience to put up with them. It is to us surprising that some interpreters, as CHRYSOSTOM and CALVIN, should represent this rebuke as addressed, not to the disciples at all, but to the scribes who disputed with them. Nor does it much, if at all, mend the matter to view it as addressed to both, as most expositors seem to do. With BENGEL, DE WETTE, and MEYER, we regard it as addressed directly to the nine apostles who were unable to expel this evil spirit. And though, in ascribing this inability to their "want of faith" and the "perverted turn of mind" which they had drunk in with their early training, the rebuke would undoubtedly apply, with vastly greater force, to those who twitted the poor disciples with their inability, it would be to change the whole nature of the rebuke to suppose it addressed to those who had no faith at all, and were wholly perverted. It was because faith sufficient for curing this youth was to be expected of the disciples, and because they should by that time have got rid of the perversity in which they had been reared, that Jesus exposes them thus before the rest. And who does not see that this was fitted, more than anything else, to impress upon the by-standers the severe loftiness of the training He was giving to the Twelve, and the unsophisticated footing He was on with them?
Bring him unto me--The order to bring the patient to Him was instantly obeyed; when, lo! as if conscious of the presence of his Divine Tormentor, and expecting to be made to quit, the foul spirit rages and is furious, determined to die hard, doing all the mischief he can to this poor child while yet within his grasp.

20. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him--Just as the man with the legion of demons, "when he saw Jesus, ran and worshipped Him" (Mr 5:6), so this demon, when he saw Him, immediately "tare him." The feeling of terror and rage was the same in both cases.
and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming--Still Jesus does nothing, but keeps conversing with the father about the case--partly to have its desperate features told out by him who knew them best, in the hearing of the spectators; partly to let its virulence have time to show itself; and partly to deepen the exercise of the father's soul, to draw out his faith, and thus to prepare both him and the by-standers for what He was to do.

21. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child, &c.--Having told briefly the affecting features of the case, the poor father, half dispirited by the failure of the disciples and the aggravated virulence of the malady itself in presence of their Master, yet encouraged too by what he had heard of Christ, by the severe rebuke He had given to His disciples for not having faith enough to cure the boy, and by the dignity with which He had ordered him to be brought to Him--in this mixed state of mind, he closes his description of the case with these touching words:

22. but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us--"us," says the father; for it was a sore family affliction. Compare the language of the Syrophœnician woman regarding her daughter, "Lord, help me." Still nothing is done: the man is but struggling into faith: it must come a step farther. But he had to do with Him who breaks not the bruised reed, and who knew how to inspire what He demanded. The man had said to Him, "If Thou canst do."

23. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe--The man had said, "If Thou canst do anything." Jesus replies.
all things are possible to him that believeth--"My doing all depends on thy believing." To impress this still more, He redoubles upon the believing: "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Thus the Lord helps the birth of faith in that struggling soul; and now, though with pain and sore travail, it comes to the birth, as TRENCH, borrowing from OLSHAUSEN, expresses it. Seeing the case stood still, waiting not upon the Lord's power but his own faith, the man becomes immediately conscious of conflicting principles, and rises into one of the noblest utterances on record.

24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief--that is, "It is useless concealing from Thee, O Thou mysterious, mighty Healer, the unbelief that still struggles in this heart of mine; but that heart bears me witness that I do believe in Thee; and if distrust still remains, I disown it, I wrestle with it, I seek help from Thee against it." Two things are very remarkable here: First, The felt and owned presence of unbelief, which only the strength of the man's faith could have so revealed to his own consciousness. Second, His appeal to Christ for help against his felt unbelief--a feature in the case quite unparalleled, and showing, more than all protestations could have done, the insight he had attained into the existence of a power in Christ more glorious them any he had besought for his poor child. The work was done; and as the commotion and confusion in the crowd was now increasing, Jesus at once, as Lord of spirits, gives the word of command to the dumb and deaf spirit to be gone, never again to return to his victim.

26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead--The malignant, cruel spirit, now conscious that his time was come, gathers up his whole strength, with intent by a last stroke to kill his victim, and had nearly succeeded. But the Lord of life was there; the Healer of all maladies, the Friend of sinners, the Seed of the woman, "the Stronger than the strong man armed," was there. The very faith which Christ declared to be enough for everything being now found, it was not possible that the serpent should prevail. Fearfully is he permitted to bruise the heel, as in this case; but his own head shall go for it--his works shall be destroyed (1Jo 3:8).

27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

28. Why could not we cast him out?

29. And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting--that is, as nearly all good interpreters are agreed, "this kind of evil spirits cannot be expelled," or "so desperate a case of demoniacal possession cannot be cured, but by prayer and fasting." But since the Lord Himself says that His disciples could not fast while He was with them, perhaps this was designed, as ALFORD hints, for their after-guidance--unless we take it as but a definite way of expressing the general truth, that great and difficult duties require special preparation and self-denial. But the answer to their question, as given in Mt 17:20, 21 is fuller: "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief. For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Mt 17:20). See on Mr 11:23. "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Mt 17:21), that is, though nothing is impossible to faith, yet such a height of faith as is requisite for such triumphs is not to be reached either in a moment or without effort--either with God in prayer or with ourselves in self-denying exercises. Luke (Lu 9:43) adds, "And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God"--"at the majesty" or "mightiness of God," in this last miracle, in the Transfiguration, &c.; or, at the divine grandeur of Christ rising upon them daily.

Second Explicit Announcement of His Approaching Death and Resurrection (Mr 9:30-32).

30. And they departed thence, and passed--were passing along.
through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it--By comparing Mt 17:22, 23 and Lu 9:43, 44 with this, we gather, that as our Lord's reason for going through Galilee more privately than usual on this occasion was to reiterate to them the announcement which had so shocked them at the first mention of it, and thus familiarize them with it by little and little, so this was His reason for enjoining silence upon them as to their present movements.

31. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them--"Let these sayings sink down into your ears" (Lu 9:44); not what had been passing between them as to His grandeur, but what He was now to utter.
The Son of man is delivered--The use of the present tense expresses how near at hand He would have them to consider it. As BENGEL says, steps were already in course of being taken to bring it about.
into the hands of men--This remarkable antithesis, "the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men," it is worthy of notice, is in all the three Evangelists.
and they shall kill him--that is, "Be not carried off your feet by all that grandeur of Mine which ye have lately witnessed, but bear in mind what I have already told you and now distinctly repeat, that that Sun in whose beams ye now rejoice is soon to set in midnight gloom."
and after he is killed, he shall rise the third day.

32. But they understood not that saying--"and it was hid from them, [so] that they preceived it not" (Lu 9:45).
and were afraid to ask him--Their most cherished ideas were so completely dashed by such announcements, that they were afraid of laying themselves open to rebuke by asking Him any questions. But "they were exceeding sorry" (Mt 17:23). While the other Evangelists, as WEBSTER and WILKINSON remark, notice their ignorance and their fear, Matthew, who was one of them, retains a vivid recollection of their sorrow.


Strife among the Twelve, with Relative Teaching (Mr 9:33-37).

33. What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?--From this we gather that after the ,painful communication He had made to them, the Redeemer had allowed them to travel so much of the way by themselves; partly, no doubt, that He might have privacy for Himself to dwell on what lay before Him, and partly that they might be induced to weigh together and prepare themselves for the terrible events which He had announced to them. But if so, how different was their occupation!

34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest--From Mt 18:1 we should infer that the subject was introduced, not by our Lord, but by the disciples themselves, who came and asked Jesus who should be greatest. Perhaps one or two of them first referred the matter to Jesus, who put them off till they should all be assembled together at Capernaum. He had all the while "perceived the thought of their heart" (Lu 9:47); but now that they were all together "in the house," He questions them about it, and they are put to the blush, conscious of the temper towards each other which it had kindled. This raised the whole question afresh, and at this point our Evangelist takes it up. The subject was suggested by the recent announcement of the Kingdom (Mt 16:19-28), the transfiguration of their Master, and especially the preference given to three of them at that scene.

35. If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all--that is, "let him be" such: he must be prepared to take the last and lowest place. See on Mr 10:42-45.

36. And he took a child--"a little child" (Mt 18:2); but the word is the same in both places, as also in Lu 9:47.
and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms--This beautiful trait is mentioned by out Evangelist alone.
he said unto them--Here we must go to Matthew (Mt 18:3, 4) for the first of this answer: "Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven: " that is, "Conversion must be thorough; not only must the heart be turned to God in general, and from earthly to heavenly things, but in particular, except ye be converted from that carnal ambition which still rankles within you, into that freedom from all such feelings which ye see in this child, ye have neither part nor lot in the kingdom at all; and he who in this feature has most of the child, is highest there." Whosoever, therefore, shall "humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven": "for he that is [willing to be] least among you all, the same shall be great" (Lu 9:48).

37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children--so manifesting the spirit unconsciously displayed by this child.
in my name--from love to Me.
receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but Him that sent me--(See on Mt 10:40).

Incidental Rebuke of John for Exclusiveness (Mr 9:38-41).

38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbade him, because he followeth not us--The link of connection here with the foregoing context lies, we apprehend, in the emphatic words which our Lord had just uttered, "in My name." "Oh," interposes John--young, warm, but not sufficiently apprehending Christ's teaching in these matters--"that reminds me of something that we have just done, and we should like to know if we did right. We saw one casting out devils "in Thy name," and we forbade him, because he followeth not us. Were we right, or were we wrong?" Answer--"Ye were wrong." "But we did it because he followeth not us." "No matter."

39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me--soon, that is, readily "speak evil of me."

40. For he that is not against us is on our part--Two principles of immense importance are here laid down: "First, No one will readily speak evil of Me who has the faith to do a miracle in My name; and second, If such a person cannot be supposed to be against us, ye are to consider him for us." Let it be carefully observed that our Lord does not say this man should not have "followed them," nor yet that it was indifferent whether he did or not; but simply teaches how such a person was to be regarded, although he did not--namely, as a reverer of His name and a promoter of His cause.

41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward--(See on Mt 10:42).

Continuation of Teaching Suggested by the Disciple's Strife (Mr 9:42-50).

What follows appears to have no connection with the incidental reproof of John immediately preceding. As that had interrupted some important teaching, our Lord hastens back from it, as if no such interruption had occurred.

42. For whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me--or, shall cause them to stumble; referring probably to the effect which such unsavory disputes as they had held would have upon the inquiring and hopeful who came in contact with them, leading to the belief that after all they were no better than others.
it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck--The word here is simply "millstone," without expressing of which kind. But in Mt 18:6 it is the "ass-turned" kind, far heavier than the small hand-mill turned by female slaves, as in Lu 17:35. It is of course the same which is meant here.
and he were cast into the sea--meaning, that if by such a death that stumbling were prevented, and so its eternal consequences averted, it would be a happy thing for them. Here follows a striking verse in Mt 18:7, "Woe unto the world because of offences!" (There will be stumblings and falls and loss of souls enough from the world's treatment of disciples, without any addition from you: dreadful will be its doom in consequence; see that ye share not in it). "For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (The struggle between light and darkness will inevitably cause stumblings, but not less guilty is he who wilfully makes any to stumble).

43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell--See Mt 5:29, 30. The only difference between the words there and here is that there they refer to impure inclinations; here, to an ambitious disposition, an irascible or quarrelsome temper, and the like: and the injunction is to strike at the root of such dispositions and cut off the occasions of them.

47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire--On the words "hell" and "hell-fire," or "the hell of fire," see on Mt 5:22.

48. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched--See on Mt 5:30; The "unquenchablesness" of this fire has already been brought before us (see on Mt 3:12); and the awfully vivid idea of an undying worm, everlastingly consuming an unconsumable body, is taken from the closing words of the evangelical prophet (Isa 66:24), which seem to have furnished the later Jewish Church with its current phraseology on the subject of future punishment (see LIGHTFOOT).

49. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt--A difficult verse, on which much has been written--some of it to little purpose. "Every one" probably means "Every follower of mine"; and the "fire" with which he "must be salted" probably means "a fiery trial" to season him. (Compare Mal 3:2, &c.). The reference to salting the sacrifice is of course to that maxim of the Levitical law, that every acceptable sacrifice must be sprinkled with salt, to express symbolically its soundness, sweetness, wholesomeness, acceptability. But as it had to be roasted first, we have here the further idea of a salting with fire. In this case, "every sacrifice," in the next clause, will mean, "Every one who would be found an acceptable offering to God"; and thus the whole verse may perhaps be paraphrased as follows: "Every disciple of Mine shall have a fiery trial to undergo, and everyone who would be found an odor of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable and well-pleasing to God, must have such a salting, like the Levitical sacrifices." Another, but, as it seems to us, farfetched as well as harsh, interpretation--suggested first, we believe, by MICHAELIS, and adopted by ALEXANDER--takes the "every sacrifice which must be salted with fire" to mean those who are "cast into hell," and the preservative effect of this salting to refer to the preservation of the lost not only in but by means of the fire of hell. Their reason for this is that the other interpretation changes the meaning of the "fire," and the characters too, from the lost to the saved, in these verses. But as our Lord confessedly ends His discourse with the case of His own true disciples, the transition to them in Mr 9:48 is perfectly natural; whereas to apply the preservative salt of the sacrifice to the preserving quality of hell-fire, is equally contrary to the symbolical sense of salt and the Scripture representations of future torment. Our Lord has still in His eye the unseemly jarrings which had arisen among the Twelve, the peril to themselves of allowing any indulgence to such passions, and the severe self-sacrifice which salvation would cost them.

50. Salt is good; but if the salt have lost his saltness--its power to season what it is brought into contact with.
wherewith will ye season it?--How is this property to be restored? See on Mt 5:13.
Have salt in yourselves--See to it that ye retain in yourselves those precious qualities that will make you a blessing to one another, and to all around you.
and--with respect to the miserable strife out of which all this discourse has sprung, in one concluding word.
have peace one with another--This is repeated in 1Th 5:13.